Thursday, 30 August 2007

Last piece of Turkish Delight

Right, last anecdote about Istanbul for posterity's sake. We're finally in Medicikoy (pronounced Major-dee-ya-coy, or at least that's how I remember it's pronounced) after being shunted off out of Kadikoy and away from the nest that I'd shat in. I was driven over by the school's manager rather than taking one of the mobile saunas called buses, who recounted stories from his officer days in the army to do with lecturing his conscripts on the evils of cottaging.

After being shown around the school premises in a nondescript high-rise tower on a very bleak estate I was dropped off at my new accomodation in an apartment about 15 minutes drive away. I'm buggered if I remember what it looks like now, apart from the kitchen and the toilet, which I got to know particularly well over the next few weeks. My only surviving photo from this period is the one you see here, taken from my classroom window the very day before I scarpered off to Czechoslovakia. I remember the kitchen from my apartment well because when I entered the room at night and switched on the light the place would be literally swimming before my eyes with cockroaches. It was the first time I'd ever even seen these insects and they reminded me distinctly of that great George Peppard movie Damnation Alley.

I think I had one flatemate, but as we worked different shifts and he had money, our paths didn't cross too frequently. Again, I don't remember too much of the actual teaching stint apart from getting on the wrong side the authorities as usual - this time for wearing cut-off cargo pants to work when all teachers were expected to wear suit and tie. The greatest redeeming feature of the school was its cafeteria and the tab it provided to teachers. That allowed me to rack up a few hundred thousand lire in food bills in my first month before my first pay packet arrived. In between time I was surviving on about 5,000TL per day, which basically bought me a couple ekmek, some jam and a bottle of water. And I think that money came from pawning the few books that I'd brought with me from England. The only two books that I permitted myself to keep were Crime and Punishment, and William Manchester's American Caesar.

These were not particularly happy days, and the anxiety levels rose still further once the ninety-day tourist visa period had expired. To get out of the country again I'd need a residency permit in order to avoid paying a thumping great fine for overstaying, but I encountered some Kafkaesque bureaucracy in my efforts to get the permit before I even understood what had made dear old Franz so famous. And because I'd purchased a flight ticket to Prague for 23 August 1992 with my second to last pay packet (which sucked up $150 from a total of $190), I ended up visiting the foreigners' police station every single day for my last two weeks in Istanbul hoping almost beyond hope that the permit would arrive in time. Miraculously, it turned up the very day before I was due to leave. I'd been keking myself.

And to compound matters still further, I'd contracted a powerful dose of gastroenteritis in my final month from some fruit that I'd failed to wash properly. Because I was still living on a couple dollars per day, I couldn't afford to visit a doctor or buy medicine, so I quite literally shat myself to a complete halt. Teaching was a nightmare, as I had to excuse myself from the class every 10 minutes to shit-blast the porcelain (fortunately the school had European toilets or else I would have had it all over my ankles). Fuck me, it was going in solid and coming out at the other end as a fine but highly pressurised mist. In my last week in Istanbul I was down to less than 60kg.

Eventually I did come right, and I put that down to the medicinal properties of Efes Pilsner. I was quaffing the stuff back by the dozen to hydrate during the height of summer and to anaesthetise myself from the pain of hanging my rectum out every 10 minutes. This had some embarrasingly consequences one evening when I was lounging about the apartment in my speedo briefs, when there was a ring at the door. I answered it without bothering to dress myself further and found the building's caretaker blabbering away something wholly unintelligble to me. The next I knew I was flat out on the deck with the coat hanger lying on top of me, the door wide open to the public, but not a soul to be seen. My speedos were still hitched up and the throbbing in the Kyber Pass was no worse since the latest violent expurgation, so I had to thankful that I hadn't been taken advantage of. God only knows what the caretaker made of it...

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Tying up Turkish loose ends

Better get this Istanbuli stuff cleared off the decks so that I can move on to another topic (God only knows what though). I’ll just polish off my TEFL training in Kadikoy before moving across to Mecidikoy for my first ever paid teaching gig.

So, the actual TEFL training was comprised of your standard four-week course led by a couple English trainers – one a very attractive and frighteningly commonsensical and serious 20-something women called ...erm...a name, and the other an outrageously mincing balding-but-pony-tailed old queen named Ian. The latter developed a crush on all the young men on the course and loved to regale us with stories of his former life teaching English in Bulgaria, but he presumably left his more amourous adventures till after dark with members of the local population unable to save enough to pay for a wedding with their preferred gender. He did bestow upon me, however, the priceless gift of knowing how to say 'thank you' in Bulgarian - something that helped me out of a tight situation with a corrupt Bulgarian border guard many years later. A quick Google search reveals that Ian is still plying his trade in Turkey at a university somewhere. I guess he wasn't as old as he looked in 1992.

There were maybe a dozen teacher trainees on my course altogether and all English apart from me and someone else - maybe an American. The rest of the potential candidates, I suppose, were rejected and got sent to Novy Jicin for their sins. The course itself is all a bit of a blur, as I was just looking for that TEFL Certificate and a couple months' work to finance the flight to Prague and thence to Randy St in Jablonec And Nisou (as my NZ hometown newspaper called it whenever they published my free-lance stories written from there). The Certificate never came in handy and was used to feed mice in Budova F many years ago. I believe I managed a 'C' for my efforts in any case; I was guilty of too much TTT I recall - Teacher Talking Time. I was just grateful I passed and was given the opportunity to recoup some of my course fee.

Apart from marking the most painful realisation that can occur to any young, vain and pompous git, i.e. that I was suffering from a slow burning case of androgenic alopecia, the course was only notable for one incident that has stuck on the scoured patch of my non-stick brain pan; that was when we were charged with critiquing our fellow trainees' teaching performance. I was in a group of four and the whole lot of us took turns at analysing our own conduct in front of guinea pig students and then opening ourselves up for comments from the other three. Well, I took my medicine without qualms since it was all the same to me. There was one twit though, called Chris, pictured in an earlier post outside the school, who was simply abominable in front of a class and would have made an absolutely appalling teacher. When it came to our turn to review his performance everyone remained embarrassingly silent. I therefore naturally saw it as my duty to speak up and save potentially hundreds if not thousands of future English language students. In short, I tore the guy apart until Ian decided that honesty wasn't the best policy and cut me short. Poor Chris was apopletic with rage, but as I've said in earlier posts, I wasn't the most politically, emotionally and culturally sensitive of souls in those days. Chris's later attempts to blacken my name, however, by spreading the story that I was racist toward Turks was even further below the belt though. Och well, you live and learn, eh?

In the end it didn't prevent me getting the job that the course guaranteed and that I so desperately needed to scrape some cash together. They did pack me off to Mecidikoy, however, which was about as far removed from Kadikoy as you could get in the world of English Fast.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Translate 'intellectual'

Interesting reading on Seznam’s Novinky today. It shows I’m desperately behind the times, but how fascinating to learn Jiri Paroubek has been porking his translator and is now set to splice the knot with her. She scrubs up very well I must say, and she obviously doesn’t mind having to heave her leg over Jiri’s acute curvature of the stomach. The 20-year difference beats my all-time record of 13 years, so I doff my cap to him. Slečna Kováčová justifies the provocation of Jiri’s marital infidelity by stating that she was ‘stimulated’ by his intellect. Hmpf, I’ve never heard it called that before. I used to do lots of intellectual stimulating myself in the good old days. Nice how she agrees with all Jiri’s political opinions, which would lead one to suggest that perhaps she not reciprocating the ‘intellectual’ stimulation in the strictest sense of the word. At least she’s her own woman on reintroducing the death penalty. Such a thoughtful lady. I would have thought it would be a lot safer for Czech politicians if they drafted in the likes of my former flatmate Libor to do all their translation work.

Friday, 24 August 2007

A whale of a tournament

Jonah the Whale won’t be there in a playing capacity, but it’s going to be just as good, and almost definitely better than 1995 when Jonah used the English team for cleaning his boot studs. This time it’s a blackout for the opposition ala 1987, although I hope to be sober enough to remember Richie McCaw lifting the Cup at the end of this tournament. Jonah was hoping to play in France, but despite receiving his long-hoped for kidney transplant and a return to first division rugby, his acute nephritic syndrome has done permanent damage, and at the age of 32 he no longer has the speed required for a winger in the modern game.

No matter. We’ve got a couple big Fijian boys on the outside, plus the evergreen Dougie Howlett, so we’re not missing anything on the outside. Mils Muliaina has the safest pairs of hands of any fullback in the business, as well as the best counter-attacking skills. There’s a guy from Otago called Nick Evans who would be a shoo-in for first-five-eighth in any other team in the world, but he has to play second-fiddle to the reigning world number one, Dan Carter. Centre is our only potential weakness, but Conrad Smith is back from injury, so probably no worries there. Byron Kelleher is the biggest halfback in world rugby and back for his third tournament, but he may end up playing understudy to the dynamic Jason Leonard. The ball skills of these lads when they’re on fire is a sight to behold.

Then there’s the forward pack with undisputedly the best scrum in the world. Carl ‘Man Mountain’ Hayman (1.93m, 120kg) toyed with his Australian counterpart Matt ‘Fat Pudding’ Dunning during their last encounter like an 800-lb gorilla playing with a plasticene Tonka truck. Openside flanker Richie McCaw wins turn-over ball like a man betting on the sun coming up tomorrow, and blindside breakaway Jerry Collins has private health sector orthopaedic surgeons lining up for overtime to deal with his tackle victims.

The All Blacks have a round-robin match against Scotland, but no doubt there’ll be a John O’Groats third XI match against Orkney Isle Amputees being televised the same day that will soak up the audience numbers in Caledonia. For the more enlightened, further information can be viewed here. Just 14 days to go till kick-off.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

And all the people (Alleluia!) Rejoiced

Ahhhh, yes, I can hear Handel’s Zadok The Priest ringing in my ears as I write this, clamorously celebrating this crowning moment in the blogosphere (hey, nice alliteration). One hundred posts. My oh my. How did we get there? And what extreme sensitivity you’ve all shown to permit me the honour of posting the hundredth when I know you all must have been scrambling over dead bodies to write something yourselves. My heart has been pumping custard pies in gratitude.

But back to life, or what passes for life at this end of the spectrum. We have a tentative date for the launch of next year’s expeditionary campaign to Asia and Central Europe. Monday, 17 March, is most probably when the school holidays begin with a bit of a roundabout journey to the final flight destination. After studying the various paths to be taken, the carriers and their extravagantly divergent prices, it looks like the Taiwanese are to be favoured with my custom. China Airlines it is then, via yet another deadly stopover at Sydney International Airport for five hours, Taipei overnight, and then on to Delhi where the carbon emissions end and the burning of the winter storage of lard begins. Where’s Charlie hiding out with his newly acquired wife these days by the way? Perhaps he could show me the sights of the Taiwanese capital for a few hours if he’s domiciled back there again.

I see the Ruskies have been taking Defence Minister Martin Bartak to task again for the “big mistake” of supinely and sycophantically bending over to expose an orifice for the placement of some “anti-Iranian” missile defences. Putin has even relaunched strategic bomber flights over the Pacific to within range of the US. Yep, nothing like some old fashioned great power rivalry to put the world to right. Such nostalgia. And now that the ice cap over the North Pole is thinning out nicely, it’s time to rush in and dig up all that fossilised carbon and help generate some more heat to uncover the deposits at the other Pole. And some people call themselves optimists and see a rosy future for humanity. I see a rosé future straight out of a bottle after reading those stories.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Pack yer prayer mat and head to church

What's this picture all about then? What brilliant repartie is it going to lead into this time and have us all accidentally uncorking our bladders with mirth, huh? Er, nowt actually. I just happen to have it in digital form and so I consign it to this electronic dustbin of history. For those of you unacquainted with Istanbul, this is the Blue Mosque located in Sultanamet where I bestrode the streets aimlessly prior to my move across the Bosphorus. There are billions of pictures of the Blue Mosque better than this one on the Internet, but I was still toying with my former employer's ancient Nikon with a rooted lens, so this is the best I could manage at the time (or as David Mitchell's Somni-739 might say, I nikoned it rather sonyed it while the shoeshine boy buffed up my nikes). Nothing more to say today really, but I'll forgive myself. Prefer to reimmerse myself in Cloud Atlas, so this week's brevity is Rotten's fault.

Friday, 17 August 2007

How to act very cool with pimples

Oooooo, number 98. This is getting very exciting. I'm struggling to scrape something from the bottom of the barrel to write about, but I might just be able to dip my snout over the line in a couple posts' time.

Back to Constantinople it is then. I've still got maybe half-a-dozen anecdotes to recount, and that's without delving into the darker side of life there. While we may not have been flavour of the century with our religiously conservative neighbours across the street or perhaps the folks living directly beneath, above and beside us, there were some residents of our apartment building who were willing to fraternise with us. I’ve already mentioned the tumescence-inducing likes of Alev and her younger sister Ebru on the lower floor. Their father was a restauranteur in the town of Çaycuma in Zonguldak province on the Black Sea coast, and so because Ebru was still at school she would travel home each weekend to be with her parents. I was invited there once for only the second time I escaped the city limits of Istanbul, but my memory of the occasion has dimmed over the years. All I can recall is some great köfte in Dad’s eatery, a visit to poor rellies in a nearby village where they were baking bread in an outdoor oven (see picture), tortuous conversations with the non-English speaking mother using my 10 words of Turkish (‘water’, ‘jam’, ‘bread’, ‘hot’, ‘cold’, ‘beautiful eyes’ and ‘fuck off’ don’t provide for a great variety of sentences in the total absence of verbs, pronouns and prepositions), and half-an-hour bent over the household squat toilet analysing the plumbing system and agonising over how to make one’s mephitic post-lunch extrusions vanish without the aid of running water (a common theme during my months in Turkey). It was all a bit of a disaster really because while Alev was just evincing some traditional Turkish hospitality, I had fanciful visions of canoodling with her on romantic evening walks in the countryside. Needless-to-say, I made a total prick of myself. Anyhow, it’s worth at this juncture posting a picture here of Alev to demonstrate that I wasn’t losing my head over a girl for nothing (wouldn’t be the last time though, would it…?).

Another resident who gravitated into my consciousness was a teenager who lived on the bottom floor with his mother (funny how I can’t remember any of the men’s names from this era). I think he must have been in his last year of school or was studying for university entrance examinations because he thought that paying me money to teach him English would somehow be of benefit to his studies. Incredible, I know, especially as I was also expected to teach him some French. I think I managed to wing it in much the same way that some people believe Bush is running the USA, and I guess my schoolboy Francais was still fresh enough at that stage to fool the most undiscerning of customers: “Ecoutez a repitez!” Amazing what you can get away with by doing one’s most outrageous John Cleese French impersonation: “I told zem we already ‘av one”.

This young lad had a few friends he was always hanging out with, and they adopted me for the couple months I was in Kadikoy as an older but mentally-handicapped brother. We would hang out on the streets or on the waterfront while I generally observed their interactions with other groups of likely lads. They were the most shameless poseurs (notice the French influence?) and would stop at nothing to represent themselves as greater lovers or street fighters. Which was all fine, except that my young friend suffered from a particular nasty case of acne. He wasn’t covered from shoulder to forehead in zits, but the oleaginous pustules that he did grow on his countenance were so ferociously volcanic and sebaceous in nature that I thought it safest to wear sunglasses in case they spontaneously erupted into one huge violent orgasm of lubricious white fluid. All highly amusing whenever I pulled out my camera, when he and his mates would immediately assume Hasselhoff positions. It’s very hard to play dead cool when there are big suppurating bubbles floating over your boat. Unfortunately, the lad in question is hidden under the towel in the picture below, but his mate beside him has got the Hoff down to a tee. Note, however, the reclining figure with the anti-zit splatter shades, the fine head of hair and the Speights Ale T-shirt.

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Street life in Kadiköy

Back to safer and more readable territory, even though I was forced into some work-related written material already today, so I don’t feel quite the usual pent-up necessity of discharging my loaded gun onto this page.

Now that I’ve established my domicile in Kadikoy on Sokak Izzetin (not Sokak Yoğurtçu as mistakenly reported in an earlier post – that was the address of the school rather than my apartment), let’s set the scene of the neighbourhood. The street was a narrow and dusty cobbled affair patrolled constantly by gangs of youths acting as the morals police or playing football. Beşiktaş, I believe, was the team favoured by the locals, although these days it’s Fenerbahçe or Galatasaray that are the more fancied and prosperous teams. The picture here depicts my street with the Beşiktaş flag hung out to mark the territory. My apartment was on the second-to-top floor on the left-hand side right beside the flag.
My boulangerie was just three blocks away from where I would line up with all my neighbours in anticipation of two or three loaves of ekmek at 1,500 lire each. Bloody nice with a big dollop of strawberry reçel, too. (Ah, my expansive 20-word Turkish vocabulary is coming back to me already). And the corner diary was literally on the corner where I would nip in daily to order “alti biere, lutfen”, as opposed to the easier but ultimately less thirst-quenching “bir biere, lutfen”, which would have had me returning another five times, as well as “yarim” kilo of pistachio nuts or grapes (everything I got was in half-kilo quantities). The beer was a wee bit pricey for me at 5,000TL each, but I got 2,000TL back on each empty, so each two-and-a-half bottles quaffed was another one waiting in the wings. Diminishing returns indeed, but it all made perfect sense to keep drinking more as you lure yourself into an intoxicated haze while parked on a sunny balcony and accompanied to the tune of the imam yodelling the call to prayer.

The front windows received little sun, but had the advantage of being closer to the neighbours for anthropological study purposes. Unfortunately, the Turkish gaster arbiter from Kreuzberg had failed to import the more charming drapery habits of their German hosts, i.e. make your apartment a curtain-free zone, and so we were not permitted untrammelled observation rights into the neighbouring living rooms. The neighbours directly opposite us, however, nevertheless felt our hawk-like gaze burning into the backs of their necks and soles of their feet (to reveal the undersides of one’s feet is apparently a great social faux pas), and so they had no choice but to pin up a black shroud around their balcony to keep the foreigners’ evil eyes off their daughter. Here is a photo of the shroud going up with the aforementioned daughter lingering behind the lace curtains:

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

A meek act of love

This is going to be a very indolent week of blogging, with short posts only until I can build up the literary energy reserves enough to churn out something that requires more than the blink of an eye to read. For the time being the mention of Russia yesterday reminded me to refer Rotten to another classic read that is heartily recommended if he hasn't been there already. That's James Meek's 'The People's Act of Love' set in Russia during the aftermath of the First World War as the civil war rages between the Whites and the Reds.

It’s a great book featuring cannibals, Skopi castrates, lusty women and a battalion of Czech soldiers led by a psychotic drug-addled 24-year-old Colonel desperate to return to their newly formed country. But it’s more than just an entertainment. The title refers to the various permutations of love as expressed or acted out by the central characters in the book. To paraphrase Meek himself, they all agree that love exists and matters, but they disagree on what love may be. Samarin, the anarchist political prisoner turned cannibal, and Balashov the religious castrate believe that it may go beyond the love of man for woman, or mother for son, or friend for friend, beyond individual love; that there is a real love which is greater than individuals. This is God’s love in the case of Balashov; this is the People’s love in the case of Samarin; this is one’s country’s love. Anna, the main female character and Mutz, the thoughtful Czech subordinate officer, are more sceptical of this kind of idealism. Yet Samarin and Balashov’s yearning for God’s love or the People’s love is, until it is taken to extremes, attractive to Anna, who is given some steamy sex scenes throughout the book; Mutz knows that he lacks something, for her, without it.

The people’s act of love is also, literally, an act of cannibalism. But to Samarin’s mind, it is a small gesture of love, of care and cherishing, from one failed, dying generation of humans to the next, happier generation. According to Meek, the ability to see something wicked and cruel as an act of love is characteristic of the extreme idealist. You can read more about Meek’s ideas in this interview.

Drawing your attention to the book was my own meek act of love to this most popular of blogs ;)

Monday, 13 August 2007

From Russia, with rapacity and aggravation

Felt like a change of location today. I can always return to Turkey another time. But this is not about lugging around FSB-sanctioned plutionium isotopes for some soup flavouring in the Dorchester Hotel, as much as I could venture an opinion on such matters. It's just a swipe at the ludicrous scenario one has to play out to adopt children from Russia. Apparently the whole reason for putting in place Hague Convention agreements between countries wishing in engage in inter-country adoption was to combat a worldwide illicit commercial market in babies for childless couples. So now, instead of shelling out tens of thousands of dollars in hard cash to corrupt middlemen, you shell out a few bricks of hard currency to corrupt government officials and Aeroflot for three, yes three, visits to the orphanage of their choice. Yes, I refer here to the aforementioned goal of expanding the family numbers via a few Russian imports, but we were told last week during our first mandatory adoption seminar that you'd be looking at investing a cool $60K for such an exercise. Looks like it's goodbye Russia and hello Thailand. I'm not about to stump up an arm and leg to fund someone's dacha on the Crimean peninsula, or wherever the Ivans holiday these days.

Thursday, 9 August 2007

TEFL as a sustainably interesting career

Not. So let’s examine why the fek I ever got involved in a notoriously dead-end and dull occupation (Teaching English as a Foreign Language for the incredulous uninitiated). Easy: it was a means to an end, and I think one or two of you can relate to that. I mean, look at the evidence: is anyone from our TUL cohort still fronting up to classrooms of eager English-speaker wannabes? Of course not, and for good reason. The end, my friend, was simply to stay on the road in those days, get to know a bit of the world, and delay the return home to anonymity and inevitable middle-class consumerist ennui for as long as possible.

Even the TEFL guides in the early 1990s openly espoused English-teaching as a way of seeing the world rather than as a serious end in itself. They openly boasted of the countless opportunities in newly opened-up former Soviet bloc countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia where you could walk into any teaching job if you happened to a native English speaker. What a Godsend for the armies of Slackerdom – do something that you’ve been doing all your life without any concerted effort, but in exotic locations, and get paid for it! Sure, get paid mince for it, but usually enough to provide a modicum of a drinking allowance.

Yep, no need for any qualifications whatsoever. Just chat away and let those impassioned hordes soak up your natural eloquence. And I could have done exactly that, only I’d fired off an application to the Ministerstvo školství, mládeže a tělovýchovy in February before heading off to Morocco for a couple weeks on only the second package holiday I’ve ever been on in my life. A job offer from Hlidek in Jablonec was waiting upon my return to London, but the snag was that it didn’t start until the beginning of the new school term in September. What to do? Well, the crumbs of my Calvinistic conscience got the better of me, so instead of gallivanting off on another excursion somewhere, I decided the decent thing to do would be to sign up for a TEFL course and make sure I could actually teach. I strongly suspected that a job requiring ‘conversation’ with students only might begin to pall after a while, and therefore it might be wisest to have another arrow loaded into my near-vacant quiver of employment prospects.

A scientific study of the cheapest TEFL courses around the globe according to the ‘language courses’ section of the Daily Mirror revealed two options: Cairo or Istanbul (discussed in an earlier post). Both cost the same, so I think the only reason I opted for Istanbul was because I’d just returned from North Africa, and Turkey could be accessed very inexpensively overland (or so I thought; this was also the era of costly flight tickets prior to the advent of no-frills cheap-as-chips airlines like SleazyJet).

And so it was that I applied to English Fast, which at the time touted itself as having Cambridge affiliation (I was quickly disabused of this notion by the other teachers once I arrived). The application process went swimmingly, which in hindsight should have set Groucho Marx-style alarm bells ringing (“I wouldn’t want to join any club that would have me as a member”). Part of that process required having to front up to a farcical ‘interview’ at a tiny and very dingey office on Tottenham Court Rd occupied by a funny little chap with the most extraordinarily intricate hair weave over his bald pate. I was so totally enthralled by it that I can’t remember what any of the questions were about at all. I later met up with the guy again in Istanbul and he kept entertained for hours by describing the ‘book’ that he’d written, and which he was then delivering to all known publishers, which detailed his deep understanding of why women are the way they are. Yes, a true philosopher. I never heard of him ever again.

And that, children, is how Great Uncle Kivak came to reside in the land of the sultans for a few months in 1992, via a few weeks bludging off his brother in Germany along the way.

And, belatedly, since we haven't had any colour here for a while, I include a lovely picture of my first teaching establishment. The girl was a Turkish student and the bloke is an English twit about whom you may hear more later...

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Some more Anatolian exploits

I should be writing up my six-monthly performance agreement at the moment, but writing yet another post seems to me far more useful, infinitely more satisfying and may potentially encourage a readership of more than one.

Since Rotten requested it, I’ll try to delve back into the memory banks and see if I can’t rewire the circuits to produce a couple sparks of cognitive recall about my torpid Turkish existence. Fifteen years is a helluva long time afterall. For a start, the title of this post is not altogether correct because I spent probably more time on the European side of Turkey than on the Asian. But, hey, Anatolia has a certain romantic ring to it, conjuring up fez hats, hennaed hands, numismatic jewellery draped over colourful chadors, and elaborate scimitars for flaying alive Crusader knights. Not that I ever saw even a hint of mystique on my two very brief excursions outside the big, bad city of 20m.

So, where did I get to last time around? Ah, that’s right, 10 days lolling around Sultanamet, accepting the offers of free shoe shines, and supping on glasses of Efes Pilsner when I thought I could afford it. Finally, when it was time to head over to the free accommodation provided by the prestigious school of English Fast (another school had beaten them to the title of Fast English), I was on the first ferry across the Straits. The school was just in the process of completing a new apartment block for its teachers and trainee teachers, but by the time I was shown around it was clear that the long-termers had snaffled all the best rooms facing outside, leaving only the clammy, airless and windowless interior rooms for the newbies (you’ve got to hand it to those canny Turkish architects – they know how to squeeze as many bodies into a building as possible). And of course, all the occupants were English.

Naturally, this accommodation grossly offended my Kiwi great outdoors sensibilities, and although I had zip bargaining power, I somehow managed to negotiate a room in a civilian apartment building a couple blocks away. Although it did have an existing tenant (mentioned a few posts back), had no running water, and had last been cleaned at the time of the Young Turk Revolution, it did have windows and a back room that looked out onto an inner courtyard. Ideal for getting pished in the evenings on sickly sweet Maramures red wine and flirting with the school girls a few floors below.

Not that my own sleeping quarters were particularly salubrious. The only window opened into a peculiar shaft type of arrangement for dispersing cooking smells, although it also had the odd effect of funnelling the sound of conjugal rights being enacted. No running water was a bit of an issue, especially as my flatmate had a habit of violently evacuating his bowels after regular nights of doner kabab washed down with liberal amounts of raki. This tended to result in the splattering of a very lumpy mustardy-beige substance with the consistency of clay over the foot marks on the squat toilet that were difficult to extirpate without the aid of a high-pressure hose. Ablutions in general were conducted via a large bucket filled with mineral water purchased at the corner shop. Ah, those were the days.

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Covering the guilty tracks

Erm, now I feel like a right numpty for that little rant, but not wanting to delete a post when we're so tantalisingly close to that magical triple figure, I have no option but to write something to try to bury my tracks as smartly as possible. But I guess I shouldn't be sign-posting that rant so prominenty here. Shit, oh well.

I'm becoming a bit curmudgeonly in my dotage, as was evident the other day when my normal route to work was barred by a film crew. I was happily immersed in my own musical planet listening to some Only Ones when some git started flapping his arms in front of me. Turns out they were filming a commercial for Telecom, so I gave the guy a right ticking off along the lines of 'just what world needs, some more product placement'. Not that I even watch the box these days. Then I noticed that whenever I sit on the commuter train or bus in and out of Wellington, the empty seat beside me is always the last one to be filled. Fuck, I'm not sitting beside that freak, everyone must be thinking.

Change of subject: finally got Cloud Atlas today, Rotten. Looks very good going by the blurb on the back. I then discovered a big stash of HST under the 'New Journalism' tag that I hadn't noticed before. Had the full panopoly of classics there, all the letters and numerous biographies. I know where to go next time. Fear & Loathing was a nice little hors d'ouvre.

Finally, tvc may not have seen that Paul Greengrass (Blood Sunday, United 93) is in pre-production to film Imperial Life Inside The Emerald City. Can't wait to see that one.

Office cubicle rage

I know I said I’d sworn off bagging employers, but an exception has to be made today. Has anyone else ever felt like presenting a manager or three for ritual public humiliation and torture? I had in mind a mass-attended butt-fucking by 45 John Holmes clones, followed by a couple hours of water-boarding and concluded with extraordinary rendition to an Egyptian prison for a quiet garrotting with a piece of very smelly cheese wire.

These feelings of something less than amity were provoked by some very, very obtuse and wilfully ignorant questions stemming from an inability to read earlier communications on the importance of delivery of certain information within strictly defined timeframes. One belated answer I got was a request to supply some ‘context’ to my urgent follow-up queries today, as well as an enquiry into what the precise nature was of the legislation that obligates us to report on this and that. It’s certainly true what is said of management: “Shit floats to the top”, and there are a number of malodorous little floaters in this general vicinity. In my parallel universe, I answered along the lines of: “Listen you cloth-eared twat, only someone with the IQ of an intellectually handicapped hamster could have asked a question like that. Are you taking any medication for what is clearly a chronic form of cognitive dysphasia? Please do not interrupt me ever again with your chromosome-missing twitterings, unless you would like a personal audience with my good friend, Anotoli Kalashnikov, aged 47.”

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Begün hava čok soğuk

Went to see a Turkish movie called 'Riza' at the International Film Festival at the weekend. A bit of a lugubrious number to say the least, but rather good in any case. It also got me thinking again about the six months I spent there in 1992, especially the views around Sultanamet and across the Bosphorus toward Taksim Square. Got me thinking about whether that great red light district is still nearby Taksim Square, not that I ever took my love to town, primarily because my credit card was still dry and the wares the ladies were offering looked decidedly low grade or a couple decades passed their used-by date. I got to know Sultanamet reasonably well during the first 10 days of my Ottoman sojourn because that's where I holed up following my financially ruinous four-day train ride through Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria from Tubingen in Swabia. Originally, I had purchased a DB ticket to Istanbul via the Skopje Express. I naturally asked whether the train still ran to Macedonia through Croatia given that the Serbs and Croats were engaged in genocidal warfare, but was assured by the Swabian trainmeisters that there was nothing to worry about. Following my arrival in Munich I suspiciously wasn't able to find my connection to Skopje. Upon further enquiry in the information office I was incredulously asked whether I knew the Serbs and Croats were engaged in genocidal warfare. If I filled out these forms in triplicate and waited two months I might be able to get 75% of the cost of my ticket back. Thanks Deutsche bahnhof. That's when I made the fatal decision to purchase the fateful additional train fare via Hungary.

Once I finally arrived in Istanbal I quickly escaped the company of the deadbeats that I'd latched onto during the journey in order to scavenge some food from their tables. I immediately made a bee-line for the language school in Kadikoy that had so eagerly accepted my
£300 in exchange for a four-week TEFL course of very dodgey repute. They told me I'd have to wait 10 days before accommodation became available, so I hustled on back to Sultanamet and booked myself into the cheapest hostel I could find in the shadow of the Blue Mosque. This hostel was run by a group of likely young lads whose main purpose in pursuing this line of work was clearly to try to get jiggy-jiggy with as many Western women as possible. And despite their very amateurish attempts and glaringly obvious modus operandi, they often succeeded, especially with the shrill Aussie sheilas. Apparently this was because they'd never heard a bloke saying they loved them so much. Hmmm. A sophisticated tactic.

Because of my lack of cash in those days I wasn't able to do a helluva lot. One of the ways of whiling away the time was to lurk about on the waterfront where the ferries took on passengers for the 20 minute trip to the Asian side of the Bosphorus. That was where you could watch the fishermen come in with their catch for the day and buy some freshly grilled fish, roasted pistachios or sheep's intestine. They were also building the tramline from the railway station up through Sultanamet at the time, so gazing at the workers humping around large blocks of concrete while assuming the eastern crouch also killed several hours of each day. And of course I also managed to pick up some very important phrases, such as the title to this post: "Today is very hot"; it's a lot more practical than 'seni seviyorum', which means 'I love you' or 'siktakit' (that's a transliteration only), which I used only once, to my cost: 'Fuck off!'

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

A rum story

Rotten will be pumped up like a proselytising pastor on Pervitin following news that Johnny Depp is to reprise his role as Raoul Duke (yes, I can bandy his name around now that I’ve been cured of my ignorance) in a cinematic adaptation of HST’s autobiographical The Rum Diaries. Given the fashion these days of filming in Prague, perhaps there’s a chance of a bit role, although I guess it might be hard to dress up the city of a thousand spires to look like Costa Rica circa 1959. Depp himself is not a stranger to the city, having filmed From Hell there a few years ago. My Maori neighbour has a picture of himself and Depp from Prague when he worked a few days as the boom handler (is that what they call it?) on that film during a professional softball gig in CZ. He used to play for the New Zealand Black Sox national softball team – my neighbour that is, not Depp – which has won the World Championships five times running, so the players are in hot demand around the world. He knocked up his Czech girlfriend while over there, and that’s why we sometimes have Maori-Czech seven-year-old twins to look after.